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August 8, 2004

Scrappy style, family values help drive Bob Schaffer

By M.E. Sprengelmeyer
Rocky Mountain News

There really are two Bob Schaffers in the U.S. Senate race.

Scrappy style, family values help drive Bob Schaffer. Durango, Colorado.
Bob Schaffer, a former U.S. representative for Colorado, faces Pete Coors on Tuesday in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, of Ignacio.  Schaffer is seen discussing his campaign at the Herald on July 29.

There's Battlin' Bob, the fired-up foot soldier who doesn't think the Reagan Revolution ever ended.

From time to time he'll equate liberals to communists. He once suggested that the Democratic Party platform be printed in "little red books."

But then there's Daddy Bob.

He's the baby-faced father of five. The family values guy. The Catholic kid who says he won't campaign on Sundays. He's the one who kept his term-limits pledge because he worried about losing moral authority among his children if he broke his word.

Even some Democrats can't help but like that guy.

Democrat Mike Feeley, of Lakewood, remembers his first year in office, in 1993. Schaffer, a fellow state senator, delivered elaborately decorated Easter eggs to each colleague's desk.

"He was so genuine, so sincere," Feeley said. "I said, 'My God, this is a really decent guy.' I knew his reputation at the time, and I said, 'I don't care.'"

It remains to be seen whether Schaffer, the partisan "scrapper" or the family man, can win the Republican primary battle against better-known, better-bankrolled beer baron Pete Coors, then win the war against the eventual Democratic nominee, either educator Mike Miles or state Attorney General Ken Salazar.

"He's a scrapper," said U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, the conservative firebrand who replaced Schaffer in Congress. "He's just made for the political arena. He loves it."

His hero: Ronald Reagan

Schaffer wore his ambition on his sleeve from his earliest days. But it wasn't the kind you'd expect from any other fresh-faced student body president.

"He was a kid who had some very definite plans and goals for where he wanted to go in life," says his old high school teacher, the Rev. John Putka.

"He wanted his life to be based on faith. He wanted to be a good father and husband."

That was back in marriage class, one of the course requirements at Archbishop Moeller High School, Cincinnati's prestigious, all-boys Catholic school.

The discussions in Father John's class foreshadowed the family-values themes that would carry Schaffer through his political career - from student government to the Colorado Legislature to three terms in Congress. Now 41, Schaffer delivers the same conservative messages in his Senate race.

If there's one thing his allies and critics all say, it's that Schaffer is someone who knows what he stands for, knows he is right and isn't shy about letting others know it.

Bob Schaffer was born in Cincinnati, the son of educators he credits for his Catholic values.

Although his parents worked in the public school system, they sent him to Archbishop Moeller, the high school known as much for its powerhouse football program as for its rigorous academics.

Schaffer graduated from Moeller in 1980, going on to study political science at the University of Dayton.

President Reagan was in his first term. The Cold War was still a hot topic.

Among other accomplishments, Schaffer said, "Ronald Reagan taught us that character means the world. With his unwavering moral sense, steeped in selflessness and decency, President Reagan offered a vision, a vision to all America. And then he followed through."

Race for Senate: Profile

This is the last in a four-part series profiling the state's major Senate candidates. The primary election is Tuesday, and the general election is Nov. 2

July 18: Democrat KenSalazar, Colorado's attorney general

July 25: Democrat Mike Miles, a Fountain school administrator

Aug. 1: Republican Pete Coors, head of Coors Brewing Co.

Today: Republican Bob Schaffer, former congressman

In his official biography, Schaffer says he worked his way through college as a farm hand. He also started actively working for Republicans in Columbus, Ohio.

Left Ohio roots for love

After graduation, when his longtime sweetheart, Maureen, got a Ph.D. in engineering and moved to Colorado, Schaffer decided to pull up his Ohio roots and follow her to start a family in Fort Collins.

To this day, Schaffer says his wife "has had probably the biggest impact on me and my outlook on family life and parenthood."

Ohio Republicans recommended the young Schaffer to their counterparts in Colorado, Putka said. Schaffer got what he describes as "chief coffee-fetcher" jobs for GOP legislators. He would start a small marketing business on the side.

Just a few years later, after Republican James Beatty's resignation from the state Senate in 1987, the 25-year-old Schaffer volunteered to head a selection committee to pick someone to fill the rest of the term. Like Dick Cheney, who headed President Bush's search for a running mate in 2000, Schaffer ended up getting the job himself.

He was elected to the first of two full terms in 1988. He served as chairman of the Finance Committee and was a defender of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

He also pushed for school choice and creation of charter schools, and he occasionally clashed with critics over family values.

In 1993, he made headlines after seizing AIDS pamphlets from a safe-sex display at the Capitol. He was offended that children visiting the Capitol might see descriptions of unsafe sexual practices and a poster displaying condoms as "Smart Sportswear for the Active Man."

Pledge on term limits

In 1994, Schaffer suffered the only defeat of his political career. He won the nomination for lieutenant governor, but he and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Benson would lose to the Democratic ticket of Roy Romer and Gail Schoettler.

Two years later, after then-U.S. Rep. Wayne Allard launched his successful bid to move into the U.S. Senate, Schaffer won the race to succeed him in the sprawling, rural 4th Congressional District.

Schaffer took a pledge to serve only three terms in the House. The pledge helped set him apart, and analysts say it played a role in his victory.

Schaffer was given seats on two committees where he could work on parts of his agenda: agriculture and education.

On agriculture, he focused on issues important to his rural district, such as promoting the wheat industry, monitoring international trade and pushing for a free trade transportation corridor through eastern Colorado.

Schaffer was most outspoken on education, calling for school vouchers and extending tax credits to families that send children to private, religious schools such as the one he attended.

Schaffer often lent his voice - and vote - to the cause of lowering taxes and reducing government spending.

He considers his legacy to be constituent service, such as intervening to help local voters or companies battle the federal bureaucracy.

Kept his political word

Schaffer often was urged to abandon his term-limits pledge, as fellow Colorado Republican Reps. Scott McInnis and Tom Tancredo had. But Schaffer said he wouldn't break his word and risk losing the respect of his family.

He went back to Colorado at the end of 2002. He has continued his efforts for school choice by leading the Colorado Alliance for Reform in Education.

Schaffer often talks about his time in Washington by telling people, "I didn't go there to make friends with the alligators - I went there to drain the swamp."

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